Russia ties can worsen, warns US
North Korea options are ‘limited’
SECRETARY of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday called for dialogue with North Korea and acknowledged that US relations with Russia had deteriorated during the Trump administration and could get worse.
During wide-ranging comments at the State Department marking six months since his confirmation, Tillerson also expressed concern about Iran’s regional policy, the political situation in Venezuela and war in Ukraine.
He said the US did not aim to depose the government in Pyongyang or use military force.“We do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th Parallel.”
“We are trying to convey to the North Koreans: ‘We are not your enemy, we are not your threat. But you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond’.”
He said the US hoped “at some point” North Korea would understand that and meet for dialogue.
The secretary of state said the administration has been attempting to exert “peaceful pressure” on North Korea, “because the options available to us are limited, particularly if we think we are operating under a short period of time”.
Tillerson talked to reporters during a surprise appearance in the briefing room, his first since becoming secretary six months ago.
He said that despite the US’s deteriorating relationship with Russia, the countries still can co-operate on Syria and counterterrorism, items that will be on the agenda when Tillerson meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this weekend in the Philippines.
“I don’t think the American people want us to have a bad relationship with a huge nuclear power, but I think they are frustrated,” he said. Tillerson said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov had been warned that “the situation’s bad, but... can get worse. And it just did.”
Tillerson voiced scepticism about whether the nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has value for the US.
“It’s an agreement that should serve America’s interests first and foremost, and if it doesn’t serve that interest, then why would we maintain it?” he asked.
Tillerson has argued that the deal is flawed but should be maintained, at least for now, because the alternative is worse.
“I think there are a lot of alternative means with which we use the agreement to advance our policies in the relationship with Iran,” he said.
He brushed off criticism of his management of the State Department. Hundreds of senior positions are unfilled, and some of his positions have been rebutted by the White House or a presidential tweet.
The criticisms have fed rumours that he’s frustrated about sparring with the White House over policy and complaints within the department he is trying to “redesign” and that he has considered resigning.
But Tillerson sounded resolute Tuesday, describing his relationship with US President Donal Trump as “very open”.
“It’s one in which I feel quite comfortable telling him my views,” he said. “He and I have differences of views on things (like the Iran nuclear deal) and how we should use it. I think if we’re not having those differences, I’m not sure I’m serving him.”
Tillerson also expressed alarm about Venezuela, and suggested the US would be pleased if President Nicolás Maduro decided to leave office.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s military and cabinet expressed their continued support for Maduro on Tuesday, a day after the US announced sanctions against the president.
The sanctions were in retaliation for defying the White House by refusing to cancel elections for a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite their constitution.
Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez affirmed that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces remained loyal to the president.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to the media. PICTURE: AP